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Needles and haystacks: uncovering crime online

Needles and haystacks: uncovering crime online

With over 2 billion active social media users, do you know how to track down the fraudsters?

Roy Waligora

Partner, Head of Investigations and Corporates Forensics

KPMG in the UK


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You are likely one of the 2.3 billion people considered active social media users who spend two hours each day liking, sharing and posting content online, generating billions of gigabytes of data.

As you might imagine, this is a potentially useful tool for investigators. These investigators might be trying to track down fraudsters in hiding, discover overseas assets or uncover secret links between two individuals to help prove a conspiracy. Previously, they could show that particular target was involved in illegal diamond trading or other fraudulent activities through a series of photos posted on a social media account linked to one of his family members.

This is all well and good in theory, but the sheer volume of online data now available can make it difficult to track down the fraudsters you are trying to locate. The average internet user has between 5 and 6 different social media channels. How do you even know whether someone is on social media in the first place and which of the hundreds of available platforms they use? Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are always good bets, but lesser known sites have millions of users as well, such as QQ in China, Mxit in South Africa and Cloob in Iran. 

If you have a few details already, such as a name, email address or phone number, here are two tools that might be helpful:

Spokeo - is a paid membership people search engine with over 12 billion records of internet users. Using its search function, you may be able to identify social media accounts linked to the name, email address or phone number of your target.

Namechk – is a free search tool designed to tell you whether a particular username is available on different social media platforms. People usually try to use the same username across different channels. So, for example, if you find one username for your target on Facebook for example, Namechk will tell you whether that same username is being used on Twitter.

Once you’ve identified the relevant accounts, the level of data you can gather will depend on the user’s privacy settings. But even where limited information is available on the surface, you can often find useful leads to further your offline research and inform human intelligence enquiries.

Since you started reading this about 60 seconds ago, there have been around 66,000 photos uploaded on Instagram, 350,000 new tweets and 4 million new Facebook posts. With a bit of skill and luck, you may be able to find the needle in the social media haystack.

For more information about our corporate intelligence capabilities, please contact:

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